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Not Knowing Spanish And Living In Mexico? A Dangerous Mix

Feb 8, 2008
If you happen to have an interest in expatriation and are targeting Mexico as a possibility, here is some of the banter you most certainly will read on the forums: "To Learn Spanish or Not To Learn Spanish, That is the Question!"

I fall, of course, on the "You've got to learn Spanish" side of the fence. My main arguments in my columns have been that you can never, ever learn the culture of Mexico without the access to the Cultural Portal--the language! But, my arguments generally, not always, fall on deaf ears.

The solution so many American expats seem to love is moving into a well-honed Gringo infrastructure called, "Gringolandia". In these little enclaves they've banned together to form their own little version of America in their own little American colony and practice their own little version of American colonialism. Part of this includes a self-governing practice not even remotely resembling a democracy. If you want to be a part of it, then it is their way or it is the highway. They will even enforce their Lord of the Flies government with threats and carry some of them out--or at least try to.

Is this true of all of them without exception? No,of course not. But I have to say that so as to minimize the death threats this blog will surely bring.

Another part of these Gringolandias is that they find the bilingual Mexicans and use them. They use them for everything. They use them to do their bidding in the real Mexican world that exists outside of their little Bubbled Gringolandias that require using the language. (Where I live I am wondering when the locals who speak English will figure out they should begin to charge for these translation and interpretation services and make a killing off the monolingual Gringos?)

Whether someone agrees or not with my views of expatriation to Mexico and the Spanish issue can certainly be debated. What cannot be argued, however, is that if the Gringo tries living in an area of Mexico where English is not widely spoken, and is out cruising the town and has a medical emergency, just what in "English's Name Only" are they going to do?

Many are being attracted, in recent years, to Central Mexico. It offers cheaper living and that's mainly what is sought regarding expatriatism. What many do not understand is that the cities in Mexico that have developed a Gringo infrastructure with plenty of English to go around, is an artificial thing (and much more mega-expensive). It is a hybrid. I've seen visitors who are staying in San Miguel de Allende (Gringolandia Incarnate) come to Guanajuato and become very out-of-sorts over not being able to find many English speaking locals in the tourist industry. And, speaking of San Miguel de Allende, the playground of the rich and famous Gringos, the prices for everything are so high that many can't afford to live there. It is no longer an American Retiree Haven unless you are rich.

Prices in the Prime-Living Locations for expats have soared so high that they are now looking toward the center of the country, the Mexican highlands, to find places for retirement and learning the language does not seem to be on their list of things to do to get ready.

So, you move to a little place off the beaten path in Mexico. One day you are strolling along in a lovely little plaza and you suddenly keel over in some sort of attack or seizure. The very Spanish-only locals see you are having some sort of medical emergency and very valiantly rush you into a Spanish-only clinic. You can't string enough Spanish words together to barely order a cup of coffee much less begin to tell the doctor what's wrong with you and what medications you take that might interfer with what he or she is about to inject you with. Your friend whose Spanish is worse than yours, cannot do anything to ease the language crisis and all he can do is stand there and hope you don't die.

Fiction? Nope. I know someone it happened to.

Look: Americans remarkably do not seem to get that in the popular resort areas and in the areas that have become the Gringolandias of Mexico where English is widely spoken, that this is not true everywhere in Mexico. And yet, they keep coming as tourists and expats into the non-Prime-Living and Resorts areas of Mexico fully expecting the locals to be bilingual.

At the very least when a tourist, have your medical history and medicines you take translated onto a card, or something, that you can give to the doctor in an emergency room.

At the very least as an expat, learn Spanish! Stop using the excuse that it is too hard, you are too old, you've tried but it just is too hard, or whatever else your monolingual lazy butt can think of.

The truth, the Linguistic Evidence, is that you are not too old. Learning Speech is hardwired into every human's brain. Stop confusing learning something about Spanish--grammar--with learning Spanish--speech.

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